Georgia coronavirus deaths surpass 100

Gov. Brian Kemp provides an update on coronavirus in Georgia earlier in March. (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – More than 100 Georgians have died of coronavirus, the state Department of Public Health (DPH) reported Tuesday.

As of noon Tuesday, the number of confirmed cases of the virus had risen to 3,817, of whom 818 were hospitalized. The number of deaths from COVID-19 was up to 108.

The virus also has invaded the vast majority of Georgia counties, with at least one confirmed case reported in 139 of the state’s 159 counties.

Fulton County continued to report more cases than any other county, with 547 coronavirus patients, to 455 for Dougherty County. However, Dougherty County has suffered 18 deaths from the virus, compared to 17 deaths in Fulton County.

DeKalb County reported the third-highest number of confirmed cases, with 325 as of noon Tuesday. Cobb County reported 272 cases, Gwinnett County 233, Bartow County 129 and Carroll County 122.

Eleven patients from Cobb County have died from COVID-19, third-highest in the state, followed by Lee County with six deaths and Athens-Clarke County with five.

More and more Georgians are being tested for coronavirus. As of noon Tuesday, private labs had administered 14,260 tests, while 1,921 tests had been conducted by the DPH.

House Speaker urges primary delay in Georgia as secretary of state holds firm

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston has doubled down on his request to delay the state’s primary elections by about a month due to concerns over coronavirus, after the state’s elections chief balked at that request last week.

In a letter Sunday, Ralston reiterated his stance that holding the primary election on May 19 could endanger voters and poll workers who might be exposed to the highly infectious respiratory virus at voting precincts. He asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to reschedule the primaries for June 16.

The House speaker, in his letter, noted Georgia has thousands of precincts requiring thousands more poll workers to make sure Election Day runs smoothly. Many of those poll workers are older adults who face greater risks from harmful health effects from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that has caused a global pandemic.

“I know there is a plan to provide them with cleaning supplies and to practice social distancing, but a delay of a month would allow more time for testing, health responses and other precautions,” Ralston said.

As of noon Monday, 2,809 people have tested positive for the virus in Georgia. It has killed 87 people. On Sunday, President Donald Trump extended federal guidelines for so-called social distancing throughout all of April for the entire country.

Raffensperger earlier this month pushed the date of the presidential primary back to May 19, coinciding with party primaries for state and local offices. At the time, Raffensperger said state law allowed him to do so as part of a disaster declarations authorized by Gov. Brian Kemp and Trump that free up emergency executive powers to curb the spread of coronavirus.

But Raffensperger stopped short late last week of agreeing to delay the presidential and state primaries any further, noting in a Facebook message Saturday that doing so would raise serious legal and practical issues.

Pushing back the presidential primary along with state and local primaries would require Kemp to extend the state’s public health emergency past its current April 13 deadline, Raffensperger pointed out. The governor has not yet indicated whether he might seek a 30-day extension of that emergency status, which would require the General Assembly to reconvene for a special session to approve it.

Delaying the primaries would also complicate scheduling for the Nov. 3 general election in the event of any primary runoffs. A late-August runoff could run afoul of federal rules for when ballots must be created for the general election, Raffensperger said.

Raffensperger also stressed that state law only allows him to delay elections for 45 days, plus concerns he has fielded from state Democratic and Republican party leaders worried a prolonged primary schedule could conflict with their respective national conventions. The Republican convention is set for late August and the Democratic convention for mid-July.

The secretary of state highlighted steps he is taking to boost absentee ballot use to discourage voters from showing up at in-person voting precincts, as well as “ordering disinfectant wipes and sprays” to help keep precincts sanitized.

“The goal is to provide counties additional resources to handle the increased interest in absentee voting while simultaneously helping them cope with the increased difficulties of in-person voting due to social distancing, thus minimizing risks to poll workers and in-person voters,” Raffensperger said.

Ralston, however, countered in his letter Sunday that Raffensperger already moved the presidential primary back more than 45 days – from March 24 to May 19 – and would still have authority to order an additional delay since a federal disaster declaration is also currently in place, on top of the state’s public health emergency.

The speaker also suggested state party leaders might be open to a delay even if it conflicts with national convention representation.

“I recognize that while a [presidential primary] held on June 16 would be after the national and state parties require that take place, it seems there is a willingness to address those rules based on the safety concerns for the election process because of COVID-19,” Ralston said.

Atlanta nation’s fourth fastest-growing metro area

ATLANTA – Metro Atlanta was the nation’s fourth fastest-growing metropolitan area in the last decade, according to new numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The population of Atlanta, including Sandy Springs and Alpharetta, was just more than 6 million as of last July 1, up from just less than 5.3 million on April 1, 2010.

That increase of 733,646 was behind only the Dallas, Houston and Phoenix metropolitan regions. The Dallas metro area – including Fort Worth, Texas; and Arlington, Texas – was the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country, adding 1.2 million residents during the last decade bringing its population to nearly 7.6 million.

The Atlanta region also is the nation’s ninth-most populous. Ahead of metro Atlanta in the rankings as of last July 1 were the New York City/Newark, N.J., with more than 19.2 million residents the nation’s largest.

The Big Apple is followed in order by Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Washington, D.C., Miami/Fort Lauderdale and Philadelphia.

The Census Bureau also reported that all of the 10 counties with the largest numeric gains since 2010 are in the South and West.

Despite the growth in some counties, more than half (53.6%) of the counties in the United States were smaller in 2019 than they were in 2010.  These patterns of growth or decline were largely related to county size, with most small counties losing population this decade and most large counties gaining.

Georgia declared federal disaster area because of coronavirus

Gov. Brian Kemp

ATLANTA – President Donald Trump has declared Georgia a major disaster area due to the impacts of coronavirus, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Sunday.

“Georgia is grateful for this designation, as it will enable the state to continue partnering with federal agencies in a coordinated fight against this pandemic,” Kemp said. “The presidential declaration is a critical step in providing additional assistance to our state and local governments as they continue to respond to COVID-19.”

The disaster declaration came as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 2,651. Eighty Georgians had died of the virus as of noon Sunday.

Kemp declared a statewide public health emergency on March 14, and the General Assembly ratified the action two days later during a one-day special session. The governor’s declaration made available state resources to help deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

The federal disaster declaration will allow federal agencies to provide direct assistance to Georgia. The record $2 trillion economic stimulus package Congress passed on Friday includes $150 billion in direct aid to state and local governments, money that can be used to help offset the impact the loss of businesses and jobs will have on state budgets.

COVID-19 now has spread to 113 counties. Fulton County has the most with 407 confirmed cases, followed by DeKalb County with 272 cases, Dougherty County with 239, Cobb County with 222, Gwinnett County with 143 cases and Bartow County with 119 cases.

However, the most deaths have occurred in hard-hit Dougherty County, where 17 have died from coronavirus. Fulton County has had 12 deaths, followed by Cobb County with nine.

Hard-hit Albany hospital gets National Guard backup for coronavirus

A hospital staff member tests for coronavirus at a drive-up test site at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany. (Photo courtesy of Phoebe Putney)

Dozens of Georgia National Guard members have deployed to help prop up medical staff at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, where an influx of patients infected with coronavirus has filled hospital beds and severely cut into medical supplies.

More than 40 National Guard members including military medics, nurses and a doctor arrived at the hospital Thursday and Friday, according to Gov. Brian Kemp’s office. They brought five ventilators in addition to medical support expertise to help hospital staff focus on the most critical patients.

Another five service members were sent to Albany’s PruittHealth-Palmyra nursing home, where a resident died from the respiratory virus last week.

More than 170 National Guard members have been readied to deploy across the state, the governor’s office said. Kemp authorized 2,000 members total to stand ready for the state’s fight against COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that has caused a global pandemic.

“I am deeply grateful to the men and women of the Georgia National Guard fighting this pandemic,” Kemp said in a statement. “The Georgia National Guard is providing critical support in our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate its impact on our state.”

As of noon Friday, 18 people had died from coronavirus at Phoebe Putney’s two hospitals from among 266 who had tested positive, according to a news release from the Albany-based health system. Another 914 patients were awaiting test results to confirm whether they have the virus.

By Wednesday, every intensive-care bed in Phoebe Putney’s hospital was occupied by a critically ill patient with coronavirus, prompting staff to open another critical-care wing and transfer patients to other hospitals.

“Unfortunately, we have not yet reached the peak of this illness in southwest Georgia,” said Scott Steiner, Phoebe Putney’s CEO. “The virus continues to spread in our region and throughout our state. The Albany area was hit hard at the beginning of this crisis, but other areas could soon see what we have been dealing with for two and a half weeks.”

Statewide, the novel coronavirus had infected 2,001 people and killed 64 as of noon Friday. Kemp, other officials and health experts have urged people to keep their distance from each other to help curb the virus’ spread.